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'Working, what's the point?'

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By Paula Dear
BBC News

With redundancies rising and vacancies shrinking, unemployment is back in the headlines. But for millions it never went away. One young couple on unemployment benefits explain how being out of work affects their lives.

Carl, 24, and Lauren, 20, have been together for nearly a year. They are both unemployed and receive benefits.

Lauren has been out of work for a year, and Carl for three years. They live in a deprived former mining village in the north of England where - a generation or two down the line from the pit closures - unemployment levels remain high.

Gutted. Depressed. Bored
Carl

Nearly 800,000 under-25s in the UK were listed as unemployed in last month's government figures. Some 16% of that age group are jobless, compared with the national average of 6%.

No one story is the same. Every tale of joblessness - be they young or old - could be interpreted differently. Carl has three words to describe how he feels about his situation.

"Gutted. Depressed. Bored. Young people don't get given a chance."

British workers

Both Carl and Lauren left school at 16 without any qualifications and initially found work.

Carl drove a forklift truck at a local firm and has also done some window-fitting work. Lauren has worked as a packer at a factory and last winter had a temporary job in a pound shop.

She has also done part one of a college course in childcare.

Carl says employers usually ignore young people, and the jobs going are often so insecure and poorly paid they are not worth coming off benefits for.

It's just pointless getting up... by the time you've paid all your bills you're left with nothing
Carl

Another recurring theme is immigration.

He says: "I've worked at a few places but I got laid off from [the last one] because there are immigrants that have come into our country and are working for cheaper, so that caused us to be all laid off because we're on more of a wage.

"I've been out of work for about three years and I just want the right job, a job I want. It's just hard as anything to get a job round here."

Carl blames the government, not the individuals who have come here from countries which are "worse than ours". But he and Lauren both believe British people should get jobs ahead of people from overseas.

As Carl sees it, the constant "fight" to get, and keep, a job in these circumstances is wearing.

Lauren

He says he used to "love" working. He now feels aggrieved, and disillusioned.

"I've got 25 good friends and only about four of them work out of the lot of them, they just feel the same as how I do.

"It's just pointless getting up, by the time you've got up, you've paid your bus fares and made your sarnies and all that you're left with 100 a week, and it's just, you wouldn't be able to get by. By the time you've paid all your bills you're left with nothing, 30 or something," he says.

Both Carl and Lauren say there are people around them who claim to be sick when they are not, or who have children at a young age so they can "sponge off the social".

"But why not just get a job and do something instead of having children, and not getting so much money? I can't see why they are doing it," says Lauren.

'I'd do anything'

Lauren says she would like to work in childcare, but as she is now 20, she doesn't think she would be entitled to any financial help to complete the college course she started. She has also worked in a couple of shops, and says she regularly asks around for work in the nearest town.

"I've applied for jobs. They've not got back to me or they have said there's no work available.

"Everything that's in the newspaper, you need qualifications. And at the jobcentre they don't help you out much. They tell you to get a job and stuff like that, but then they just tell you to look on the [electronic] 'job points'. I'd like them to help me out better," she says.

Having nothing to do except search for jobs "makes you feel depressed", says Lauren, who has two siblings also out of work.

"If I had the money and the chance I'd go back to college," she says.

Carl and Lauren
The couple would eventually like to move away

Carl says a local recruitment agency has promised to send him on a course that will help him get a security guard licence, which he hopes will lead to work.

He would rather do security work or window-fitting - and jokes that he'd be happy with a career "on EastEnders" - but says he has pretty much given up on factory and agency work because it is so unpredictable.

"At one place I turned up to do a night shift, then the next day they said they were full up and didn't need me. I had to go home, it was about three miles and I'd missed the last bus.

"Then after that you have to restart your benefits and you haven't got a clue where you are with anything," he says.

'Better life'

In the meantime, Carl and Lauren live on 95.90 each per fortnight in unemployment benefits, which they say is not enough.

The money covers their board and lodgings with family and friends, travel, some food, tobacco, clothes, phone top-ups and so on.

They say they had both hoped for a better life than their parents. They believe it is harder for young people now than in previous generations.

Carl's dad was out of work for many years - he gave up his job as a glazier to look after Carl and his six siblings - but has now trained as a bus driver and works full-time, while his stepmother is a carer and cleaner.

Lauren's mother had her first child at 14. The children have lived with their grandmother - who doesn't work - since Lauren was seven.

Carl and Lauren both hope that by the end of the year they will have found work and will be living together in a privately-rented flat or house, as the wait for a council property has so far been fruitless.

"Eventually we want to get a job and move away from round here to settle in a quiet area," says Carl. "There's nothing wrong with round here, it's just, you want something different don't you?"

"Something better in life," adds Lauren.

Photographs by Phil Coomes

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